Mitchell stopped by the White House on November 5, 1998 apparently at the invitation of President Clinton. He was a lifelong admirer of her music and just wanted to meet the woman responsible for writing the song that bore the name of his only daughter. The photos show Mitchell shaking hands with Clinton, having a conversation with him, and petting Buddy.
Canadian born Roberta Joan “Joni” Mitchell carved out a distinctive career as a singer-songwriter over the course of nearly a century as she turned out albums of an eclectic nature that combined elements of folk, rock, and jazz. Born in Fort Macleod, Alberta on November 7, 1943, the seminal and groundbreaking artist will celebrate her 72nd birthday this month. Mitchell’s most recognized songs include “Both Sides Now,” “The Circle Game,” “Free Man in Paris,” “Big Yellow Taxi,” and “Woodstock.” She produced twenty LP’s (eighteen studio and two live releases) from 1968-2007, with Blue (1971) coming in at Number 30 in Rolling Stone’s list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”
As a teenager, Mitchell combined music with her true passion, art. After graduating from high school, she first took art classes at the Saskatoon Technical Collegiate and then left home to attend the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary. At the same time, she began singing with friends at bonfires. Mitchell’s first paid performance occurred at a Saskatoon club on October 31, 1962. Initially she played the ukulele but soon switched to guitar, teaching herself the basics from a Pete Seeger songbook. Mitchell took weekend gigs as a folk musician, sang at hootenannies, and even made some appearances on local radio and television shows in Calgary. The fledging performer seemed ready to embrace a musical career wholeheartedly as she took a job in a Calgary coffeehouse that paid $15-a-week, standing out for, in her own words, “singing long tragic songs in a minor key.”
The ascent of Mitchell to mainstream success took approximately five years. Along the way, she paid her dues and then some. Mitchell left home at the age of 20 in 1964, telling her mother that she intended to go to Toronto and become a folk singer. Her time in Toronto was largely spent in the Yorkville neighborhood doing gigs “in church basements and YMCA meeting halls” and working in the women’s wear section of a downtown department store to make ends meet. The next step of Mitchell’s rise to fame took place in the United States. In the mid-‘60s she started playing regular gigs at coffee houses in and around Detroit, Michigan. Mitchell paired off with Chuck Mitchell, who briefly became her husband, and they more or less took up residency at three places in particular: the Alcove bar near Wayne State University, the “Rathskeller,” a restaurant situated on the campus of Detroit University, and the Raven Gallery in Southfield. It was at this point that Mitchell started writing her own songs in earnest.
After the breakup of her marriage, Mitchell departed for New York City to pursue a career as a solo artist. Beginning in 1967 she toured up and down the East Coast, performing at any number of venues. Locales that saw her most often included Philadelphia, Boston, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Through frequent shows at coffee houses and folk clubs Mitchell honed her songwriting and guitar skills, thus attracting the attention of fellow artists. Folk singer Tom Rush recorded Mitchell’s “Urge for Going,” Buffy Sainte-Marie took on “The Circle Game,” Dave Van Ronk put his distinctive touch on “Both Sides Now,” and, most significantly, Judy Collins turned “Chelsea Morning,” into a modest hit. It is no secret that the Clintons daughter, Chelsea, got her name from the Mitchell/Collins song. According to Bill Clinton in My Life, he was strolling down King’s Road in Chelsea with Hillary in December 1978. They were in London on a brief vacation celebrating his election as governor of Arkansas for the first time. Window-shopping, the two of them heard Collins version of “Chelsea Morning” blaring from the loudspeaker of a store. Bill remembered, “We agreed on the spot that if we ever had a daughter we’d call her Chelsea.”
Mitchell’s big break occurred in late 1967 when David Crosby, out of sorts after being dumped by the Byrds, wondered into the Gaslight South coffee house in Coconut Grove, Florida. There on the stage Mitchell was performing one of her signature songs, possibly “Both Sides Now.” Crosby told Uncut magazine, “And it just slapped me up against the back wall. I didn’t even try to take a seat. I just leaned against the back wall and looked at her….” He took Mitchell back to Los Angeles and made the rounds with his music friends. In no time she had Elliot Roberts, a close business associate of David Geffen, as a manager and Crosby as the producer of Song to a Seagull, her debut album.
The album that propelled Mitchell into super stardom was Blue. Released in 1971, the LP peaked at No. 15 in the Billboard 200. It contained the hit single “Carey,” along with other Mitchell songs soon to become standards such as “All I Want,” “The Last Time I Saw Richard,” and “River.”
Mitchell’s experimental period, which began in the mid-‘70s, can best be characterized as an extended flirtation with jazz and jazz fusion. Court and Spark, released in January 1974, marked the first of such ventures. Two singles from the album, “Raised on Robbery,” and “Help Me,” became wildly popular and helped the work reach No. 1 on the Cashbox Album Charts. The Hissing of Summer Lawns (November 1975), Hejira (November 1976), which featured a collaboration with jazz virtuoso bass guitarist Jacob Pastorius, and Don Juan's Reckless Daughter (December 1977) highlighted by improvisatory pieces with members of Weather Report, followed in quick succession. Perhaps the high point of Mitchell’s jazz period came in June 1979 with the release of Mingus. A joint effort with venerated jazz composer, bandleader, and bassist Charles Mingus, the album received mixed reviews from the both the press and her fans because of its highly experimental nature which veered widely from the accepted rock’n’roll idiom.
In the 21st century Mitchell came out her last album of original material. Shine, released in December 2007, focused on political and environmental issues. Specifically, Mitchell used the LP as a vehicle to come out against the war in Iraq.
On March 31, 2015, Mitchell was found unconscious at her Los Angeles home after apparently experiencing a brain aneurysm. Conflicting reports have emerged about the health of the singer-songwriter. The latest credible information from about a month ago said Mitchell remained at her home resting comfortably and undergoing physical therapy. Every indication pointed toward a full recovery within a short period of time.